Is There Room at the Table for the Fake Followers Among Us?

Buy Followers!

One of many robo-concierges polluting Twitter and willing to assist with your shallow self-image needs.

My favorite piece of journalism so far this year was just published January 27th over at the New York Times and struck a nerve in a number of places. In an epic-length article entitled “The Follower Factory”, the NYT plumbed the wobbly world of Twitter and those peculiar, insecure users who boost their Follower head count by paying a company actual money to bless them with hundreds of thousands of automated “bot” accounts that pretend they’re fans clinging on to their every tweet, for the purpose of making the paying customers look more popular. Some are piecemeal accounts, with profiles barely filled out. Quite a few are the product of surface-level identity theft, cribbing photos and usernames but with a character altered to make it unique (relatively speaking). They don’t praise you, go forth in your name, act as your “street team”, or interact with you or other humans in any meaningful way. They just Follow. They sit there, shut up, and act like you rule.

Companies such as Devumi cheerfully offer low-price options for ordinary web-surfing rabble like me, but they also bank some major cash selling bot followings by the hundreds of thousands to B-list celebrities, politicians, creators, reality TV dwellers, and others at varying levels of fame. The NYT named a few names I recognize — actor John Leguizamo, Chef Michael Symon, onetime MST3K guest star Kathy Ireland, and film critic Richard Roeper, whose Chicago Sun-Times reviews have been suspended pending their internal review. Of those who responded to requests for comment, a few buyers insisted it wasn’t them personally pushing the buttons, but an assistant or social media manager who bought a hollow audience on their behalf for PR strategy or whatever. Whether their deflections are true or not, boosts of fake fame are kind of sad. Granted, some personalities receive perks and bonuses from their corporate overlords based on the looks of their social media metrics, which means a return on their invidious investment is entirely possible. To them I imagine it’s all part of the Game.

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The Curse of the “Follow” Button

Follow Button Nightmare

Just so we’re clear, this haunting illustration is not intended as a superliminal message.

The Followers list of the average WordPress user is comprised largely of other WordPress users. The community is extremely supportive that way. On occasion I’ve even dug a little deeper into those notifications and discovered usernames popping in from Blogger, Tumblr, DeviantArt, YouTube, and other creative sites. If readers are attracted from outside the blogosphere altogether, that’s worth an elaborate victory dance in my book.

Some of that support is provisional, though — offered in hopeful accordance with the implied adage of “I’ll follow you if you follow me!” I’m not sure how many online communities this largely unspoken expectation pervades. When MCC first launched, I kept this guideline in mind, especially in the early era of single-digit daily traffic when any sort of response, human or otherwise, was a welcome change of pace from spending quality time with the Void.

The longer my resulting reading list grew from everyone I Followed in turn, the less I wanted to keep observing that adage. And yes, I mean “reading list”. I tried keeping up with all of them/you, even if the subject matter didn’t interest me in the slightest. It seemed the most honest response. I still read many, many blogs in any given day, but I’ve had to perform some serious triage for the sake of my free time and sanity. I’m unclear on when the “Follow” button became less a simple, literal statement for some users and more of a token to be swapped with passing strangers like marbles or pogs.

For some of my oldest followers…I think using the “Follow” button jinxed them.

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